"If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." -Woody Allen
Ours is a world full of headlines. Headlines that pique our curiosity. Snippets of quotes designed to act like a fat, juicy worm on a hook and we're nothing but hungry fish. We get teased with tidbits of a story, and linger to hear the rest. We chase endless clicks in a website to find out just what amazing thing that little kid did or just why did the sweet woman start crying or just what Hollywood actress was seen out with this boy band member?
We're fed the unbelievable so much now that everything seems...believable. We've walked on the moon, transitioned easily into a new century, and communicate in mere seconds without even seeing or verbally talking to someone. Things previously thought to be impossible are now possible.
How would we react to a 90-year-old woman claiming God told her she was going to have a baby?
Such was the case with Sarah, Abraham's wife, whose story is told in the book of Genesis. God has promised to bless generations or descendants from Abraham and Sarah, but their time is running thin. He's 100 years old. She's 90. Not exactly newlyweds. Not really in that "do we wait until we're done with school and have careers established before we have kids" crowd.
Sarah gets so fed up with the idea that God's insane promise won't come true that she gives Abraham permission to sleep with one of their servants. This way at least he can take part in fulfilling generational promises God has given. So Abraham does just that, and has a son from a different woman. His name was Ishmael.
After this, Abraham is greeted by God again with this covenant of wishful thinking that Sarah will indeed have a child. God even has a name picked out for the baby: Isaac. Abraham did what so many of us do. Under his breath, he chuckled. "God has gone crazy. No way can Sarah bear children at her age! Why wouldn't he just let Ishmael be the one to establish this covenant with?"
See the parameters we put on God? The deals we try to strike to make things more plausible, simpler, more fathomable. God, just do this thing that I've already established. It will work just fine.
O, us of little faith.
Sometime later, three men came to visit Abraham and Sarah. Abraham, being the good host that he is, promptly asked Sarah to get food ready for these unexpected visitors. One of the three men was either God himself of just a guy with incredible intuition, because he told Abraham that in a year Sarah would give birth to a son. Coincidental for sure, since days before Abraham was pleading with God to take a different route on this one. Sarah was eavesdropping on the conversation taking place between Abraham and God. At hearing that she, a woman slightly north of nine decades old was going to give birth to a son, she had a reaction we all would probably have.
She laughed because the idea was senseless. This was some convoluted story for the National Inquirer. This was a headline from The Onion. This was a near mockery of the human body and a woman's biological clock. Laughter had to be the only logical reaction to such absurdity.
Imagine the Twitter headlines:
"Old woman planning to birth son at 90". #Loony
"Woman old enough to be a grandmother says she's about to be a mother." #DrunkOldWoman
"100 year old man gets 90 year old woman pregnant." #ViagraWorks
The Internet would explode with satire for a day or week or so. And rightly so. 90 year old women don't have babies.
Sarah laughed at God. But her laughter was more serious than it seems at first glance. Her laughter wasn't just at the eye-rolling nonsensical idea that she would have a child. It was also directed at God in a sarcastic way. "Oh, NOW you want to bless me with something I've always wanted, now that my hair is gray and my face is sunken with wrinkles. NOW you want to give me a son."
God's response is classic. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
Of course not. Of course nothing is. But Sarah didn't think so. Sarah was convinced this wouldn't happen. She shrugged it off. Silliness. Poppycock. Not a chance.
When we read the story of Abraham and Sarah, we can see the faithfulness they had towards God. We can revel somewhat in their amazing story, but after all, it's mere pages in a book to us. We didn't really know them. We only read about them.
So when I think of my 91 year old grandmother who is essentially wheelchair bound with her mind slipping further into to the darkness of dementia, I can't help but sit in sheer wonder of God. There's no way my Granny could even walk 10 feet on her own, much less birth a child. It defies science. It's goes completely against medical logic.
The comparable scenarios for us might not be this extreme. But when we read direct promises of God, studying the way He claims over and over how much He loves us, why is it we just don't always believe it?
We fly through day-to-day life working out our plans for money and for health and for work and for family and for our own big dreams only to water everything down to a dim reality that views God as all-powerful, but only in some far off and distant place. He gives us our basic needs, but we never expect Him to do anything big in our lives. We never really seem to expect God to keep His promise.
No, this doesn't mean we can expect massive miracles to happen. If they do, great! God is good, and He is faithful. If they don't happen, then God is good, and He is faithful still. What we take from the story of Sarah is that God promises us some amazing things, but too often we settle for mediocre. We're like Sarah, promised a son from her own body, but willing to settle for descendants from her servant girl. We're impatient. We want things right now, and we'll take whatever we have right now, even if it's not the best that God has promised us. We laugh at the absurdity of God, and tell Him we've got things under control.
The story of Abraham and Sarah, though peppered with moments of doubt and unfounded fear, ends just as God had said it would. A year later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, just as God promised she would. The name Isaac was not given randomly. God prepared it specially for the boy, because Isaac means "son of laughter."
"Sarah said 'God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." (Gen. 21:6)
90 years old. Faithful, but doubting. Laughing at what seemed foolish. Sarah now laughs with joy. Joy that comes only from God.
I've laughed at God before. It's the easier path compared to swimming deep in his perplexing promises. It's easier to shrug it off, act like it will never happen. Perhaps you do the same.
But when we look back on our lives so far, do we laugh at God with joy for the promises he has already proven faithful to us in fulfilling?